Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Precise Use of Words

I am not very good at this. Even as an English teacher I was more interested in the feelings expressed than in a pupil's grammar, although I was a stickler for spelling. My brother however, is fanatical and pedantic, pouncing on his two sons, should they ever utter a word that is not carefully chosen, exact and precise in its meaning. Now teenagers, these boys are actually a bit of a pain to be around as they have taken their parents' lessons to heart (yes, my sister-in-law is the same) and they are highly disdainful of anyone who does not live up to their own high standards. Both boys are highly gifted in Maths, Science and Computer Science and in no little measure I have to admit that their success in these exacting fields is due to a great extent to their early training, plus a pretty big dose of genetic inheritance.  This family is actually so collectively brainy, I find visiting them is something of a nerve-wracking experience as I try (feebly) to keep up my own end. No-one relaxes in this house. It reminds me of a heated discussion we had at Book Club last month when we read: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Harvard Law Professor, Amy Chua. I was simply awed by the level of dedication of Chinese parents and children to their studies. Perhaps they take things to extremes, but in contrast to some parts of the world where our youth seem to have lost their way - e.g. in the UK, having the example now of two generations of parents who see no need to include a work ethic in their lives,  I began to think it wouldn't be a bad thing if the Chinese took over the world.


  1. I'm constantly amazed by the intellectual abilities and work ethic of young Asian and Asian American students. One of my part time jobs for twenty years was doing admissions outreach and interviews to applicants for a prestigious university here in the U.S. There were a lot of Asian applicants and so many of them were just wonderful. They weren't, in general, tense and grimly driven. Rather, many had fun hobbies, a great sense of humor and were just delightful. Many of their parents were hard working immigrants of modest means or professionals as well. I read Amy Chua's book and cringed in spots, but she wrote it with tongue firmly in cheek, I think. And she did learn to modify her views as time went on. I also thought that the Chinese Tiger Mother bore some similarities to my Irish father who insisted that I start writing stories as soon as I learned to read and who tutored me relentlessly in maths. I think the secret is to be involved and encourage kids but, at the same time, let them know they are loved unconditionally.

  2. It's that 'unconditional' bit that is hard to get across. I never felt I was unconditionally loved and was convinced my whole life that my parents were disappointed in me. It was only by living far away from them that I finally felt I could be myself.